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7th FEB:1917: ‘SO U.S.A. HAS COME IN AT LAST – ONLY 2 YEARS TOO LATE!’

BASIL HIBBETT

BASIL HIBBETT, Foden Road, Walsall: LETTER  to Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, The Cenacle Red Cross Hospital, New Brighton, Cheshire.

7/2/17

Dear Old Chap,

Am very sorry I have not written lately but it wasn’t because I never thought of my dear wounded brother & I have often wished that you were at Home, for there is nothing much for me to do here.

Second World War vintage (?). Copyright: © IWM. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item

 

 

 

Thank you ever so much for the cigs & the cash: but you must not waste your money on me; you know I have got my bit to do yet. No I don’t smoke much & I never buy cigs myself yet. Nevertheless I likePlayers No 3 (better than the Embassybut of course I shall get through them all!

Well, here I am still waiting & my patience (never a great quantity!) is nearly exhausted. One thing, the weather is ripping & I should think the Arboretum (1) is frozen to the bottom! Of course they are skating on it.  Sister & I went on last night in the moonlight to see what it was like. There was 25° of frost here yesterday & at Market Harborough there was 40°! (2).

Walsall Arboretum: Hatherton Lake. walsall/arboretum.htm

I generally go for long walks in the afternoons & occupy my time in judging distances, at which I am getting expert. 

Yesterday I got on the car (3) to the Bell Inn (4) & walked round Great Bar (5) & right along the Beacon to ‘Bosty’ Lane (6). It was a grand afternoon & if only my papers would come I should be happy as possible. I saw 3 lambs on the Beacon, all in the snow & about as big as one’s hand!

View from Barr Beacon, Aldrige, Staffordshire.
Barr Beacon.

Mr Machin* (7) lent me 2 military books & as this part of the country is good for manoeuvres, I imagine that I am in command  of a section or ½ platoon: as I walk along & judge whether I am within artillery or rifle fire from different positions & if so what formation to adopt. Of course that sort of warfare is not much used now as in former wars, but it is interesting & occupies one’s mind. 

We have heard rumours of an offensive in March, but mind you, only rumours (8).

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, President USA 1913 -1921.

So U.S. has come in at last. Wilson the gas-bag, the note-writer, the peace without victory chump (9).

When he hears of a liner blown up on the sea he gets as mad as a hornet, he does, yes sur-ree! An’ he cables across – ‘Wuz thar Yankees aboard? By jiminy! if so gimme Bunker Hill’s Sword! (10) But ur course, if thar warn’t, it’s nawthin’ tu me, I’m a jestice of peace, an fer nootralitee; I’m too proud fer tu fight fer ole papers an’ scraps. Tho’ I mebbe hev signed ’em – gold data ’em – perhaps!” (11).

Well, he’s only 2 years 6 months too late!

I am glad you had a nice time with Mother & Ida. We shall have to leave the Picture until you come home & then you & Ida can go to B’ham to choose one. (Ed: a frame for one of Bertie’s sketches?)

Well hoping you won’t be frozen to the marrow when you get into bed tonight: you would think there was an elephant in my bed with all the clothes & overcoats, waistcoats & trousers & then myself underneath it all trying to get warm!!!

With much love from Dodger.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

The Winter of 1916-1917 was especially harsh throughout Europe. The Meteriological Office Monthly Weather Report  for February 1917 records the most severe frost in England since February 1895; many rivers & canals were frozen over for weeks. One can only imagine the conditions for the men in the trenches and be glad that my father was not one of them.

Pte Bertie’s youngest brother Basil, 19, was still waiting impatiently for his call-up papers. His letter gives a good idea of his character, his intelligence & youthful courage. He was in Queen Mary’s School O.T.C. (as Sydney & Bertie had been) and was hoping for a commission in the Manchester Regiment. The Hibbett Family was anxious that Basil should avoid something of the menial work & harsh conditions that his brothers had undergone in the ranks. He had gained his Senior Oxford School Certificate and his father was probably better able to afford a commission for his youngest son, than in 1914, when his brothers volunteered and the War was expected to be ‘over by Christmas’. 

Basil Hibbett writes as if the U.S.A. was already in the War by 7th Feb. but it was not until 6th April 1917 that President Woodrow Wilson signed a Declaration of War on Germany in order to make ‘the world safe for democracy’.  Since 1914, he had fought to keep America neutral but his hand was forced when Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all shipping (whether neutral or not) with the sinking of the American liner, Housatonic, 31st January 1917. (British intelligence also reported that Germany was pushing Mexico to declare war on America).

Even so, it was not until May 1918 that a full-scale American Army arrived in France: by then Lieut. Basil Hibbett was already at the Front doing ‘his bit’.

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(1) Arboretum Lake, Walsall: E. A. Foden, (gave his name to Foden Road, now Broadway), decided to turn his estate into a People’s Park. It was officially opened in 1874 with two lakes, two lodges, and a boathouse. The lakes were created by flooding the deep disused limestone mines. Hatherton Lake is 40ft deep in places. In WW1 the playing fields were used for growing potatoes and the Women’s Volunteer Reserve helped maintain the Park. (‘The Story of Walsall’, Bev Parker, Black Country Historian).

(2) Market Harborough (Leicestershire) 40 ° frost. The Met. Office Monthly Weather Report for Feb. 1917 records 91 days of frost on Dartmoor, the severest frost lasting 5 weeks, the longest since 1855: ‘nearly all the furze (gorse) is killed’. Birds & evergreen trees ‘severely affected’. See also Scott Richards’ Weather Videos from 1871 (YouTube 13th Jan 2016).

Ilkeston Corporation Tramways. 1917. Midlands General Omnibus Company website. NB Woman Conductor. 

(3) Car: i.e. Tramcar.

The Bell Inn, Bloxwich; Tudor. Photo late 1800s. Walsall Express & Star image.

(4) The Bell Inn: Birmingham Road, Bloxwich, Walsall. 

(5) The Beacon, Great Barr, parish of Aldridge, one of Pte Bertie’s favourite cycle rides.

The Beacon Way runs from Sandwell, West Bromwich, to Barr Beacon (now a local nature reserve) taking in canals and woodlands around Walsall. The Hibbett Family would have joined the walk at Rushall Church a mile or so from 95, Foden Road.

(6) ‘Bosty Lane’: (the B4754 between Rushall & the Beacon). ‘Bosty‘: slang for ‘filthy’ – here a muddy lane frequented by cattle?

Rushall Canal, Walsall.

(7) Mr Machin*: Hibbett Family friend, one of Pte Bertie’s mentors, father of Alan Machin, QMS pal. See Hibbett Lettersalso Menu: My Memories.

(8) Rumours: The March Offensive’ became The Battle of Arras, 9th April – 16th May 1917. French intended to breakthrough German lines ‘within 24 hours’, 50 miles south on the Aisne, whilst British were to divert German reserves by attacking their defences at Arras, re-capturing Vimy Ridge dominating the plain of Douai and advancing towards Cambrai. 

President Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

(9) President Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 1856 -1924. 28th U.S.A. President 1913-1921. Democrat.

Woodrow Wilson: generally considered one of the best of U.S.A. Presidents, with a reputation as a progressive reformer. Signed Treaty of Versailles at Paris Peace Conference (28th June -21st Jan 1920). Championed a new League of Nations but unable to win Senate approval. American WW1 casualties made USA want to keep out of European affairs.

Bunker Hill’s Sword.

(10) Bunker Hill’s Sword: 24″ carbon steel blade with brass handguard & pommel used in Seige of Boston, Massachusets, known as the Battle of Bunker’s Hill,17th June 1775; American Revolution’s first major battle, (British pyrrhic victory/ 2,200 killed or wounded).

(11) Basil Hibbett’s doggerel? I am unable to discover the authorship of this witty piece on typical British attitudes towards America in 1917 -it might well be Basil’s own.Ole papers & scraps . . . gold data’em: ref. to Congress’ Declaration of War or earlier declarations signed in gold?

NEXT POST: 22nd FEB 1917: Basil Hibbett leaves Home for War.

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18th JUNE 1915: PTE BERTIE GETS LEFT BEHIND & ANKLES GIVE WAY.

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

18th June, Fri:  In Hutments Bulford Camp

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Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: A Little Book of Words & Doings. 18th June. ‘Battle of Waterloo (1)In Camp. Got some souvenir cards for Rev. E.  M. Darling’s son*, of ‘The  King of Belgians‘  – & ‘Entente Cordiale‘ for Mother100 years ago French were against us, now French are allies  – & Germans opponents’.

WW1 Postcard: Entente Cordial
WW1 Postcard: Entente Cordiale
WW1 Postcard: King of the Belgians. Sold in aid of WW1 Charities.
WW1 Postcard: King of the Belgians.

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LETTER to Marie Neal HIBBETT, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall.

18th JUNE, 1915.

I guess Ida & Dodger can picture the neighbouring country our allied enemies 100 years agojust such another fine sunny afternoon.  re  Colonel Wade (3) Great Men all remind us They can make our love sublime And departing leave behind them Footprints in the sands of time. (4)

Centenary of Battle of Waterloo. 1815.  ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation’. Friday June 18th 1915.

My Very Dear Mother,

Another sunny dayThe Battalion went its usual route march before breakfast this morning. Certainly the march gives one an appetite for the fa’ bacon, but I think there’s no exercise in marching in full pack.

Well I must get on & answer all your past letters & I am very sorry Mother that I have not addressed enough letters to you, but I guess you will have seen that you are remembered & mentioned in the letters addressed to Basil & Ida etc.  Sydney received quite half a dozen letters Wednesday, including the ripping long one from Dodger;  the others were from Miss Foster*.  She sent her usual page letter, always the same note & a box of Egyptian cigs.  I don’t think she must be so well off,  for she took the cigs out of the tin box to save postage; at any rate it was very good of her to remember us so. 

Sydney gave me his letters (home) to read yesterday & I popped in a line to say  I was writing today.  Isn’t Sydney a knut eh! see where I underlined his comic phrase. We both thoroughly enjoyed the currant bread at tea-time outside the hut in the sunshine together –  & Vernon handed us a slice of currant cake which made a pleasant appetising tea.  Many thanks for the useful sugar & we shall treasure the tea from home.

You do surprise – 2 parcels coming on top of one another almost.   I forgot to put the photo of Colonel Wade in the letter I wrote at Souvenir (5).  I must congratulate you on the improvement of 11/- extra in the collections for the HospitalI guess there are a few wounded there & the beds are full up.  Sorry the service on the Sunday School Festival ‘Flower Sunday’ was not so happy as it might have been owing to the inappropriate hymns & I myself agree that on such an occasion the Curate or Vicar should preach (6).

I did not want you to read my letter to Ida for your own good, but as Miss Kathie Brookes* said once in Bible Class (I shall never forget it) – that we must let Mother know all our secrets.  I am in very good health & condition now, excepting feet – owing to the fatigue ration party at Souvenir.

We had two exciting & arduous journeys up to the trenches the night we were relieved (7). I had to carry ammunition & after, within half an hour of being relieved by our ‘sister’ battalion, I chased after the rest of the party with a mile length of foot board for laying along the trenchsupposed to be carried one between two men. 

Trench 8. Pte bertie Hibbett's Wulverghem Trench showing foot boards.
Trench 8. Pte Bertie Hibbett’s Wulverghem Trench showing foot boards. Grateful thanks to Andrew Thornton.

Well ‘they’ set the machine gun on us along the road & I nearly ran with the foot board.  Tell Ida if she remembers the day in Abergele when she sprained her ankle, well my ankles gave way suddenly, but I didn’t want to be left behind, you know why I guess, but bear in mind it was not my fault I was left behind.

Well I must not rest too much on what we’ve been doing for it will take all my time & paper to answer your requests.  I am indeed very sorry Basil has had to go under the dentist’s hands & I guess you will understand that I quite sympathise with him;  when I remember the time I went I shudder, but there is also another reason & I sympathise with  you in the latter respect which you will know without me saying so (8).

We heard on Paradehere I am again saying what we’ve done & heard – but I think you will be interested to know that the Notts & Derby  Sherwood Foresters have done some hand to hand fighting & it was read out to us this morning on Parade.  They are on the same line of trench as us.

You will I trust let me know if you get this letter, for I am dubious about the badge being on the paper (5) but I sent it because of the red letter day.  I suppose there will be great doings in the great centres of patriotic societies ahem!  

Oh Mother – the gum has mended my prayer book capitally & I hope it will last me the duration of the war.  To be handy on the march & elsewhere I should like a small khaki tobacco pouch.  I told Sydney to let you know what I wanted because I am always sending  ‘begging letters’ . A bottle of barley sugar would be welcome if  you cannot make some butter scotch; the latter I prefer, but it doesn’t matter much which you sendSend a small pot of lemon curd for we both relish that above all.  As for the butter, I think we shall manage, though I prefer butter from home & it won’t go bad at all if put in a little pot like you did last time but one.

Sorry I am scribbling.  The time we went on ration party those days have upset the routine, but you were right in saying we went to the trenches on Saturday 12th.  So Basil will be sitting (exams) very likely during the week of my birthday.  How capital of you to have saved the lucky 6d.  I too hope it will bring him success.

Sydney has received a letter & paper (9) from Harold this  morning, but has not opened it yet.  I am going to try to get a pass to buy you a lovely souvenir card worked in silk for this occasion.  I have marked all the special days off in my diary (10).

Oh thank you for the mirror, it will come in useful.  I was needing one & I hope my old 1914 diary is safe.  That reminds me – did you get the Staffordshire Swanking Song – do you like the music?  (11)

I like the Bournville Choc do you? – have you tried any?  Generous Mrs Jones sent her monthly parcel, – the same welcome contents as usual.  This time I had a tin of Embassy & one of the box of Nestles.

Sorry Tim Machin* is ill.  Have you had the letter from Allen* I wish I could write better, but to write such long letters in decent hand is arduous.  I re-read your past letters & make drafts for my next letters, but I cannot help but miss things out.  Now is there anything else?  I guess Sydney has helped me out a bit in his long letter.

Oh with regard to my 20th don’t let it be mentioned beyond the family circle.  I have warned Sid not to say a word to Vernon & we shall both spend the 12th day of next month quietly I remember you saying that yours and my Birthday are one & we have tea together on the lawn Mother like little children.

You will laugh at Sydney’s letter, where he mentions the ‘little scamp smoking’.  We have seen on the march a little chap, not above 3ft tall in height dressed in khaki wearing his 3 stripes.  He saluted and kept at the salute as we all passed.  English good. Lallerman no good (11).

I will close now, thank you again for the long letter.  I will write & finish ‘my say’ later.

Your affec.   Bertie.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1)  Centenary of Battle of Waterloo: British defeat of the French under Napoleon. 1815. Another example of the importance to my father of events in British history. (2) Proverbs 14.34.  (3) Wade: info pending. (4) A Psalm of Life.1838.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poet 1807-1882 (published in his first collection: Voices in the Night).

(5Souvenir  Farm/ Ration Farm. Strange to find a military name in Pte Bertie’s letters (especially as he’s worried if the censor will accept the Staffords Knot letter-heading).

(6) Whilst the father I knew was enthusiastic about  post 2nd WW new Bible translations and took most of the liturgical changes of the 1960s in his stride, he always  wanted everything to be done reverently – ‘decently and in order‘ (St Paul: 1 Cor. 14.34) – i.e. suitable to the occasion  – and this he seems to have learnt from his Mother at an early age.

(7)15th June night fatigue. Until communication trenches were completed at Wulverghem, soldiers had to approach the Front Line, 600 yards from 57th Brigades HQ at North Midland Farm,  across open  & higher ground and were exposed to danger from snipers, shells & machine guns. (8)’Newspaper‘ is meant here, as distinct from ‘note‘ for writing paper which he also refers to as ‘paper’.

(9) Mother’s Birthday:13th July; Bertie’s Birthday 12th July.  (9Basil’s dental appointment was in preparation for joining the Army I presume. (10) ‘Lallerman’: a child’s pronunciation of ‘Allemagne’, French  word for ‘Germany‘.

(11) Staffords Swanking Song. I think I have seen this written somewhere; does anyone know of it?

NEXT POST: 20th JUNE 1915.

 

 

1st MAY 1915: Friendly Fire & Forget-me-nots.

South Staffordshire BadgeeSOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY

WULVERGHEM TRENCHES

26th April, Mon: Two working parties of 200 men each on G.H.Q. lines.  Bn paraded for Trenches at 8.50 pm & relieved 1/6th S Staffs Regt.   27th April, Tue: Wulverghem Trenches.  Heavy artillery fire all day, mainly on our right. Aeroplane duel about 6.0 pm over Wulverghem. Casualties: 085 Sgt W. Stevens, 9491 Pte J. Parkes both of ‘A’ Coy, wounded by rifle fire.  Gap between 10a & 10b completely closed.

28th April, Wed :  10a support trench shelled. Sniping from Messines. Casualties: Wounded:4468 Sgt W.J. Yardley, ‘A’ Coy 9012 Pte G. Wyley, ‘D’ Coy wounded. 29th April, Thur:  Shell from supporting battery struck 10b Trench seriously wounding Capt. Mc Craith, (North Midland R.E.)  Killing Pte W. Martin, (M.G. section). Other Casualtieswounding 8436 Dr. H. Mills ‘A’ Coy., 8526 Pte J. Lewis. ‘A’ Coy.

30th April, Fri:  Quiet day. Six shells fell in Wulverghem village about 4.0pm.  Casualties – Wounded:9332 Pte N.C. Hilton, M.G. section wounded.  1/6 S Staffs Rgt. relieved us 11.45 pm Bn to Bulford Camp. Casualties: L.Cpl. H. Meyrick, ‘B’ Coy & 8908 Pte V.C. Hough ‘C’ Coy wounded during relief.

CASUALTIES during month : KILLED: 7 OtherRanks  (includes 8990 Sgt J. Sanders (attd R.W.) killed at Dickebusch, 27.4.15);  DIED OF WOUNDS: 2  O. R. ; DIED IN HOSPITAL: 1 O.R. ; WOUNDED: 2 Officers, 25 Other Ranks.   

Signed Raymer Lt Col Comdg. 1/5 S. Staff Regt. 

1st May 1915: NEUVE EGLISE, BULFORD CAMP HUTMENTS.

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Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT: LETTER to MOTHER, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd. Walsall. (Pages 5 – 8 only)                                                                                                         May Ist/ 15  (Basil’s Birthday)

Page 5 . . . . . .  Our little place under the ground (1) was nice & cool while Sid and I broke into a parcel from Mrs Jones*How generous of her to have sent again & she must have kind thoughts of us to pop a long letter in each time and to say “There is something very pleasant in sending comforts to our ‘dear lads at the front.

Two tins of Embassy cigs for Syd and some Nestles ChocNow this war is on I do not think Nestles Milk choc is such good quality, but I enjoyed it very much because it was from a friend of Mother’s.  She told us you had gone to tea that Monday afternoon.

I am proud of Sydney & admire him for his modesty (2).  He has done some sniping & I shouldn’t be surprised if the result was – well I’ve suddenly taken a serious turn – rather sad to say.

Ask Ida what afiller-inis. I managed to get hold of a Daily Mail.  One of the days I read a jolly article, yet a pretty one, entitled Poor Georgia – she was a ‘filler-inall through life & it ends up something like this  ‘And heaven was full but there happened to be just a little spot that no one would take & so Georgia ‘filled it in’!

Wouldn’t you all like Sid & me to come on Home Leave now?  I have had a new tunic and puttees & bootsYou would admire the little bit of scarlet at the back of our hat badges (red & khaki go well together) and Sid with his a new tunic and stripe

In camp I frequently come across our friend Ball* with his rosy cheeks & kindly smile.  Last time I saw him at the washing place in the field.  He said he had got another boil; the one on his neck has quite gone.  I remembered Mrs Jones* to Cyril Hind* & he went on to say that Miss K. Brookes* had read part of my letter, and his, to her Class. (3)

I’m glad Dodger had a good time at Easter, he will miss the rides with Mr Cox (4) as well now Mr Cox is going to Devonshire.  I received a very interesting letter from Miss Foster* telling of her time in Scotland.  She says she is also anxious about us both.  I got her letter with Basil’s mile long one today.

Sid, I think, would like for his 21st birthday a few crumbs of comfort – cigs, some chocolate 3d and 6d Cadbury’s Mexican & a cigarette case You can pop a few cakes in & perhaps a tin of Nestle’s Milk to make tea taste nice.  A tin of pineapple chunks would not be amiss for we crave sometimes for something cool to eat or drink.

If Miss Bore* wants to send us anything tell her to send some acid drops & bulls eyes again, for its time for those now.  Well I’ll finish up my May Day letter referring to the Boy of the Day (5).  How goes he on the piano now?  I should think he ought to give you real pleasure with some nice tunes.

Vernon’s older brother* has his birthday today the first of May too.  I hope sincerely that Basil will get through & not be excited about the exam after all the long time of preparation.

Remember us both to Tom Ser* [& Bes] (6) – if they are ‘nice’ yet- ha!  ha!

Dear Mother I hope this letter will give you some comfort.  I have tried & I hope my little effort will have good effectalso the lovely little forget-you-nots;  but the pressing has taken the pretty light blue out of them.

They remind me of Rudyard Kipling’s hymn:–  Lord God of Hosts be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget! Lord bless my Home – guide there my affections-  my thoughts – my pen. Tho’ sundered far – by faith we meet   Around one common mercy seat. (7)

Fondest love from your affect. son,   Bertie.

ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

(1) Listening Post ‘like a Walsall pit’. (2Sydney Hibbett had just been promoted to Lance Corporal. (3) Sunday School Class at St Paul’s, Walsall. (4)  Mr Cox, probably the farmer Basil Hibbett (future agriculturalist) helped out during school holidays. (5May Day 1915 was Basil’s 17th Birthday. His exam was probably Junior Oxford. (6)Tom Ser & wife Bess ( Uffington friends? information pending).

(7) Rudyard Kipling: b. Bombay, India.1865 -1936. The People’s Laureate’. Short story writer, poet & novelist/ children’s classics. Won Nobel Prize for Literature. Lost son at Battle of Loos, Oct 1915. Critical of British Army. Involved in Imperial War Graves Commission.

Poem: ‘Recessional’ (composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897) repeats the refrain ‘Lest we forget‘ (i.e. the sacrifice of Christ/ representative of all Humanity). Adapted by the Anglican Church as a hymn/ used especially at Armistice Day/ Remembrance Services. Frequently found on War Memorials.

NEXT POST: 3rd May 1915.